When a Country is a Little Bit Pregnant

There’s an interesting post an Alexander Stille in the New Yorker with some information from a recent poll in France:

Seven per cent of French people (according to the last C.N.C.D.H. report) acknowledge being “rather racist,” while another twenty-two per cent consider themselves “a little racist,” twenty-five per cent “not very racist,” and forty-four per cent described themselves as “not at all racist,” down by ten per cent.

I suppose it’s great that racist people have the self-knowledge to call themselves “rather racist.”  And the twenty-two percent who consider themselves “a little racist,” for all we know, could be liberals with a sense of realism and not a little guilt. (“C’mon, folks, we’re all prejudiced on some level.”)

The really intriguing group to me is the twenty-five percent who consider themselves “not very racist.”  Who, exactly, are they comparing themselves to?  “Sure I’m a racist.  But my next door neighbor, boy, is that guy really a racist!”  Of course, the next door neighbor is saying the same thing about him.

Like pregnancy, I don’t think that racism ultimately is a question of degree.  You either are or you aren’t.  Everything else is a detail.

What also impresses me is how up front the French are with their racism.  It seems that in America, everyone but the fringe will deny being a racist, even as they are saying something racist: “Well, you know, I’m no racist, but…”  Actually, I don’t know, and you are a racist.

I’m not sure which version I prefer — French or American — naked xenophobia or shallow self-delusion.


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